In the decades I’ve spent traveling internationally, I’ve learned that unpleasantries will transpire. With all the changing variables including customs, culture, transportation and language, misadventure is bound to happen. However, I refuse to let misfortune shape my character or cloud my attitude long term. And on a recent trip to Morocco, my fortitude was tested when I booked a tour in Marrakech that left me angry and dumbfounded.
My Travel Nightmare: a Tour in Marrakech Gone Awry
During a three day trip to Marrakech, Allan and I booked a day tour through our hotel to a waterfall, bridge and village in the Atlas Mountains south of Marrakech. Based on the accolades of our front desk clerk, who raved about this being traveler’s “favorite tour,” we felt confident in our decision. Plus we liked the hotel and receptionist a lot. Both had gained our trust.
So with high expectations we boarded the ten passenger tour van one morning in great anticipation of a splendid adventure. The driver stopped at a nearby hotel to pick up three other passengers who selfishly arrived fifteen minutes late. As they exited the hotel it was easy to pick the obnoxious, self-absorbed culprit who held us up as he was the last one out of the hotel.
Then when he sat next to me in the van his legs kept invading my personal space. And he was loud. Regardless, I blamed his behavior on ignorance and apathy. Certainly I was not going to let a little inconvenience ruin my trip.
As we headed south out of Marrakech, the crazy Moroccan drivers disregarded any type of traffic laws or etiquette. I tried not to pay attention to the road, so I looked at the landscape. Within thirty minutes the view of the red Atlas Mountains could be seen over the horizon. Small towns began to open up before us, giving us a glimpse into more of the local flavor and color of Morocco. This is the type of travel I prefer: to see the real Morocco.
However, the first harbinger of future problems appeared at our first stop: a tourist trap selling Moroccan pottery.
Allan and I loathe these places with high prices and pushy sales tactics. The tour operators only stop here as to receive kickbacks. Plus. the drivers receive free food and drinks. So Allan and I feigned interest, perused the merchandise and then waited back at the van thirty minutes for the remainder of the group to finish.
We piled back in our transport and drove for thirty minutes more and stopped at another tourist trap: a store selling salts and body products. Vendors in white coats approached us, pretending to be medical experts. I could feel my blood pressure begin to rise. I did not pay for a tour to stop at two tourist traps.
The sales lady tried to take us around, but we refused and waited by the car. Our driver disappeared into a room and did not emerge till forty-five minutes later. By this time I was livid and expressed my concern to him in a collected yet poignant way. He disregarded my concerns, and jumped back into the van.
We then had to wait for the same rude, passenger another fifteen minutes as he was engrossed in purchasing products, oblivious to anyone around him. When he finally did finish I was so annoyed. But I just breathed in and out, trying to calm myself.
As we drove further into the mountains, the road turned very muddy, filled with large puddles. Traffic began to back up as we crossed washed out roads and overflowing streams. The whole area was covered in mud. From the river to our left to the road ahead, brown surrounded us.
Shortly later we pulled into a lunch spot, the would be highlight of our trip.
We feasted on mediocre, complimentary chicken and couscous, looking out over a mud filled river. I sat wondering when this tour would turn interesting and worthwhile. Unfortunately my answers would come soon: never.
After lunch, we waited in the mud for the van to pick us up. Then we headed back the same way we came in. To the right across the river picturesque villages appeared. I kept trying to remember the photos from the tour brochure. Where was the waterfall and village pictured? Was this it?
The van kept driving back in the same direction of Marrakech, past all the familiar sites like the two tourist traps. Was he heading back to our hotel? Was this it?
Sure enough he stopped in front of our hotel two hours before the scheduled end of our tour. We disembarked and he drove off without even saying goodbye or thanks. Stunned, we headed over to our hotel to voice our concerns.
The same receptionist who raved about the trip then began to receive our hefty complaints.
“This is the worst tour I’ve taken in my life. We didn’t see anything. I want my money back. He took us to two tourist traps selling souvenirs and a lunch stop. No waterfall at all,” I proclaimed. Shocked, the receptionist claimed she had never heard such complaints before about the tour company. Allan, who was silent during most of the trip, agreed with my concerns. This eliminated my doubts that perhaps I was being a difficult and picky traveler or “ugly American”.
She called the tour company and consulted with a colleague. Apparently they could not do the whole trip because of the rain. I then mentioned it had stopped raining, and we had returned two hours early. Why hadn’t we then gone and seen something else? Why no explanation from the driver?
The receptionist asked why I didn’t speak up to the driver? Why didn’t I ask him to stop to take photos or go somewhere else? This reasoning angered me. I was not the guide, and frankly had no idea where he was going. I just assumed he was going to take us where we were promised. And if he couldn’t he should have told us and brought us somewhere else or refunded our money.
In the end the tour company offered us a free tour the following day.
We declined the freebie because we had planned to leave the next day. Plus we had zero interest in dealing with them again. I threatened to stop by the tourist police if they did not refund my money. However, in the end we just chalked the day up to a bad experience. We received zero money back and certainly did not take another tour with them.
I am still surprised how this good hotel could recommend such an awful tour company. At minimum the driver should have explained the problem and offered something else. Dropping us off two hours early from a six hour tour is unacceptable.
As ridiculous the experience, we didn’t let it ruin the rest of our trip.
I realized we are privileged to posses both the time, resources and wits to travel. One day out of a seven week trip really should not cloud our perspective. And I’m satisfied in how I dealt with the situation.
I voiced my concerns, pushed for compensation and received some form of resolution. Allowing tour operators to take advantage of clients should not be accepted. And as much as I understand the road was dangerous from the rain, the driver needed to communicate this to us and at least propose an alternate solution.
Even though I still felt frustrated the next day, I tried to not focus on the incident. In the end I just stopped thinking about it. I prefer to concentrate on the good rather than the bad. But even writing this article brings back bad memories and makes my stomach begin to turn in knots.
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